5 Mistakes Owners Make When Adopting a New Cat

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

adopting a new cat

Story at-a-glance -

  • Cats are very popular pets, with good reason; if you’re considering adopting a new feline family member, there are lots of things to consider — and potential mistakes to avoid
  • It’s important to carefully consider if you’re prepared to invest the time, effort and money necessary to properly care for a cat for his or her lifetime
  • If you already have a cat, don’t make the mistake of assuming she’ll enjoy having a new housemate
  • Don’t forget to buy essential supplies and pet-proof your home before the new kitty arrives
  • Set the new kitty up in a private space and allow him to acclimate to his new environment on his own terms and timetable

There are countless great reasons to share your heart and home with a feline companion. Compared to many other types of pets, cats are clean, quiet (usually) and relatively low maintenance. And despite their reputation for being standoffish, many are every bit as tuned in to their humans as dogs are.

Another fascinating characteristic of cats is that despite their long history as companion animals, they’ve retained many of the traits of their wild cousins. Indeed, our feline friends are essentially semi-domesticated, which just adds to their appeal, don’t you think?

If you're considering adopting a new — or another — kitty from your local shelter or rescue, you know it's one of the most significant commitments you'll make in your lifetime. Accepting responsibility for caring for a living creature who’ll be totally dependent on you isn't something to take lightly. The following are 5 common mistakes to avoid.

5 Things to Avoid When Adopting a New Kitten or Cat

1. Don’t make an impulse adoption — Sadly, many pets are acquired on a whim, without thought or preparation. Your heart may be in the right place, but unless you’re prepared to invest the time, effort and money necessary to properly care for a cat for her lifetime, things can go south in a hurry.

In those cases, and there are far too many of them, the kitty is the inevitable loser. Shelters are full of pets that were the result of an impulse purchase or adoption.

Questions to ask yourself: “Can I afford to properly care for a cat?” “Is anyone in the family allergic to cats?” “Does my landlord allow them?” And, “Do I have the time available to give her the attention and care she needs and deserves for the next twenty years?”

2. Don’t assume your current cat will welcome a new feline housemate — It’s crucially important to plan ahead if you already have a kitty and want to add another to the household. Some cats with no history together can learn to get along or at least tolerate each other over time, but there are situations in which it’s just too dangerous or stressful to keep two poorly matched pets under the same roof.

Unfortunately, bringing a new cat into a home with an existing cat is often one of those situations. Give some thought to how your current cat might react to a new cat. If in the past he’s shown aggression or fear around other kitties, you could be setting the stage for a problem.

It’s a good idea to try to match the temperament and energy level of a new cat with that of your existing cat to improve the chances the two will get along. If things don’t go well initially, I encourage you to consult with an animal behavior specialist before throwing in the towel on adopting a second cat.

Often, it just takes some time and a few helpful tips to put an existing pet and a new one on the road to a harmonious relationship.

3. Don’t wait till your new cat is home to stock up on pet supplies — Purchase most of the pet supplies you’ll need before you bring the new kitty home. These include items such as a leash, harness, collar, ID tag, toys, scratching posts, litter and litterbox.

I strongly recommend you keep your new cat on the same food she’s been eating, and wait to transition to a better diet (if necessary) after she’s all settled in. It’s important to realize that change, whether good or bad, gets translated as stress in your kitty’s body.

Kittens, in particular, experience a lot of stress because often they’re being separated from their mom and littermates for the first time. They’re also changing environments, which can mean new allergens that can affect their immune systems.

Your new pet has a brand-new family, humans and perhaps other four-legged members as well. The last thing her body needs at this particular time is a brand-new diet that might cause gastrointestinal problems. That’s why I recommend purchasing whatever food your pet is currently eating, and then slowly move her to a better-quality diet if that’s your goal.

4. Don’t overlook the need to pet-proof your home — This is something you should do before bringing your new fluffy friend home with you. You might not think of every last detail beforehand, but at a minimum, you should move cords out of reach, as well as plants.

If you have children, you can involve them by having them get down on the floor to take a cat’s eye view of all the temptations your new pet might want to investigate. Pick up anything that has dropped on the floor that could pose a temptation or hazard.

Pet-proofing your home before your new kitten or adult cat arrives is the best way to prevent a choking, vomiting, diarrhea or other crisis during those important first few weeks as a new pet parent. For more information and some great tips, read 10 Ways to Kitten-Proof Your Home.

5. Don’t rush introductions and don’t leave your new cat alone with other pets until you’re sure everyone gets along — If possible, take a few days off from work to properly welcome your new kitty home. It will take some time for him to get acclimated to his new environment and daily routine.

The more time you’re able to spend with him giving him lots of positive attention, building trust and teaching him the routines in his new home and life, the better the outcome for both of you.

I recommend separating your new arrival from the rest of the household in a little bed-and-breakfast setup of his own for at least a week. This will help him get acclimated on his own terms, which is the way cats prefer things.

Kitties are very sensitive to new environments, sounds, tastes, smells and so forth — and they’re very easily stressed by any change in their lives. Put his litterbox, food and toys in his private room and keep noise, confusion and visitors to a minimum.

Introduce other members of the household one at a time. Ideally, this takes place in a neutral space after the new cat has ventured out on his own to investigate. Meet-and-greets should be done in a calm, quiet, low-stress environment so as not to scare or further stress the new kitty.

It’s also important that the new kitty not have free rein in your home before you’re completely confident he is safe in the new environment, and that both he and your other pets are safe in terms of interacting with each other in your absence.

Don’t ever leave a new pet unattended with existing pets until you’re very sure the new arrival has acclimated to the other animals and vice versa.

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